I am absolutely SHOCKED that nobody on this site has mentioned this book. 12 years ago, I returned from 18 months on the road for work with a determination to learn a hobby that I would enjoy and that was focused on the home...home sweet home. I decided the answer was cooking. I had tried some cookbooks before but I really hate just a long list of recipes. In browsing the shelves of a bookstore, I found Madeleine's book.
Clearly a book of techniques and food and tool knowledge, it has it's recipes. But it is more of a combination of the few best or classic recipes as support for discussion about technique and knowledge. Like all the cuts of a cow or the science behind letting bread rise or the action of acidic ingredients in marinade or the proper way to dice garlic (buy pre-diced garlic?).
I recall about 6 months into this learning process I decided to make my own stock. Unfortunately the availability of veal bones is dreadful, so I bit my tongue and used beef bones. 20-qt pot, bunches o' bones browned I think, onions, carrots, bouquet, water - I think that was all - 4 hrs on the heat and I let it cook and slapped the results in a bunch of Mason jars. I froze most and used some for various dishes. I made a prosciutto and leek risotto with it that was heavenly. Only 4 hours of work, but the result is a homemade flavor base that is to die for. And should I mention the resulting onion soup? All at the inspiration of Madeleine.
Well, with all this investment I am not going to settle for sauteed chicken. So I determined that if I was cooking dinner, I'll spend the 2+ hours on something interesting. Turns out the book IS a wealth of great recipes. I ended up learning to cook beef bourguignon, braised beef roast with horseradish sauce, coq au vin, duck a l'orange, onion soup, roast lamb, tomato soup, fish, fish, fish. I even made croissant from scratch! Yikes! I almost forgot to mention the espagnole sauce I made from this book...wow!
It seems this book I bought to learn cooking turns out to be a graduate textbook on the subject. I learned a tremendous amount from this book and combined with The Art of French Cooking and a few ethnic books on Thai, Indian and Moroccan food, my kitchen is quite happy. I highly recommend this book.